Sunday, February 20, 2000

20/02/00 A fête worse than death ...

No, neither a spelling mistake nor some sort of Freudian slip, just that last night was the school dine and dance here at Saint Pierre, and we weren't able to get out of it. Locked into a smoky salle des fêtes for at least four hours, surrounded by demented French-things drinking with abandon and smoking - as far as anyone can tell - silage. Attila the Hun and his mobile disco provide the musical ambiance, which is pretty dire.

Actually it wasn't as bad as all that. It was pretty bad, because our table was right up at the head of the room about 3m from the "orchestra", which rather curtailed conversation. On the other hand it wasn't too smoky, which was a pleasant surprise, and we managed to slope off early - about mid-night. Luckily Jeremy had decided earlier in the day that he wasn't going to enjoy himself and so spent his time sulking, which most people interpreted as tiredness and recommended we take him home.

Reminds me that at some time I really must fill him in on the sordid details of exactly what it is I do for a living. At the moment he seems to have it in mind that I make computers and then give them to people, which isn't exactly right.

The weather at the moment is traditional French for the month, aggravated by the usual influx of Parisians and other simple carbon-based life-forms for the winter holidays. Practically speaking this means a couple of days where you start to think about putting away the winter woollies, followed by a week wondering why on earth we chose to live so close to the North Pole when there are so many warmer places around, like Siberia. And the autoroutes are jammed. And I do not even wish to speak about going to Carrefour to do a simple bit of shopping.

On the other hand the birds have been at it - noisily - for weeks up in the eaves and some of their enthusiasm seems to have communicated itself to the vegetable world, as the primroses are in flower and the daffodils and snowdrops are out, looking for a less boring means of reproduction than just splitting their rhizomes. Which means that soon we'll have to look at spreading grass seed on the balder patches of paddock, look at planting out trees if we're going to get that done this year and perhaps even napalming and then rotary-hoeing the patch where the vegetable garden once was.

Tuesday night now, and I'm trying to recover after a day's diarrhoea - not mine, I hasten to add, Jeremy's. Took the morning off to look after him but had to drop him off with Margo in the afternoon as I had the accountant coming up to the office to play "Let's hunt a hundred thousand!" or however much it is we want to pay out to ourselves this year. Starting to be a pain in the proverbial rude parts now that we have a bit of production going on, which means that we have to keep track (vaguely) of stock in hand at the end of the financial year so that it appears in the credit side of the accounts (as stock) as well as the debit side (something we actually, through gritted teeth, paid for). Because otherwise you look at the balance sheet and see 300KF spent buying components and 310KF coming in from the sale of what we made from those components, and you start to worry seriously where your margin is,until you realise that the 100KF you spent in December and billed at 200KF in January appears on the books for '99 only as an expense. This business of trying to manage a small company isn't all it was made out to be at the beginning. No-one warned me that it might start to get complicated!

On the news front - the European Commission has already threatened France with a slap on the wrist for continuing to ban British beef after the relevant European agencies have found it to be safe - or at least edible - and are seriously considering doing the same with Germany. I must admit that the French have played it very nicely: having just created, by some incredible coincidence, an "independent" organisation somewhat along the lines of the FDA, which duly found reason to doubt that Britain's herds were totally free of BSE, they now claim that there is no way they can override the expression of the peoples' will and let mad cow meat into France. An attitude which goes down well not only in France, because most right-thinking people hold the Brussels bureaucrats in the same esteem as cockroaches.

But one of these days the French will have to accept that they're just a second-rate nation (have been for at least 120 years, but never mind that) and can no longer get away with bullying the Germans from a position of weakness. Back in the 60s both the French and the Germans wanted to lock Germany into a peaceful Europe, with the Germans as the economic motor and the French as the political visionaries. The unwritten agreement was that the French led and the Germans backed them up with their economic clout. Now conditions are, if not reversed, at least a bit more equal, and this lot of Germans sees no need to feel guilty and would rather like to have their own place on the world stage. Which leaves the French wondering exactly where their place is. Unfortunately, unlike the English, France has no experience of voluntarily giving up an empire, and so has no idea of how to decline gracefully. (Off the top of my head, I can think of no other country that feels a need to bribe small, corrupt African states to continue using French as the official language.)

Perhaps, as de Gaulle's myth of the heroic French resistance fades, and Mitterand's generation of techno/bureaucrat collaborators dies out, France will become a normal nation that doesn't have to pretend that it was raped by the Nazis in 1939 but somehow remained pure in spirit. It has started, with the trials of several home-grown war criminals and the reconsideration of the war in Algeria.

Things can only get worse (well, more interesting) as the EU expands to take in the next lot of applicants (six of them, if memory serves, including Cyprus, which is politically delicate) and starts considering the next lot whilst thinking about what to do about Turkey. (Been thinking about Turkey for years. Got nowhere. Blame it on the Greeks.)

Does all that sound a bit dyspeptic? Must be in a bad mood. Probably listened to one ignorant Frog too many, decrying the evils of an "Anglo-Saxon" economy of which he knows sod-all, and moaning about how he doesn't get enough subsidies.

I really am feeling sour. On the bright side, we finally got together all the necessary paperwork and our naturalisation dossier has been sent off to the Préfecture. So in another couple of years we may well become authentic French-persons. While waiting, we have to renew our cartes de résident this year, and as they expire in August I suppose we'd better get a move on, especially as the Préfecture is basically closed for three months starting in June. That gives us three months, which should be enough. Just.

Anyway. For now, it's enought that the Parisians have all gone home (usual traffic jams on the autoroute all day) and the temperature is rising, which can only mean that Spring is coming. Another few months and we can dust off the barbecue!

Tuesday, February 8, 2000

08/02/00 The brave new dawn of the 3rd millenium?

More like the hung-over awakening of the 2nd millenium's left-overs, but never mind.

Well, three weeks into Y2K we're still here. I'm starting to feel that maybe we can relax a little and venture out of the bunker for an hour a week or so. Although that might be a bit premature, at least until Feb. 30th goes by without a hitch (according to purists it's a double leap-year).
Anyway, time goes by and the primroses are starting to get ready in the garden, and I suppose that in a month or so the daffodils will be poking their heads out as well. Which will be A Sign that the lawnmower needs an oil change if it is to cut grass rather than bludgeon it, and that we'll have to go around spraying fruit trees against mealy-grub, white spot, black spot, greasy patches and mad cow disease (this is France).

But all that's on hold for the moment as it snowed again quite heavily on Saturday and then again last night: 25cm of the stuff this low down at this time of the year isn't bad. Friends came around on Sunday and we all went sledging in the paddock, which the kids loved. Shame the snow was sticky: great for making snowmen, but you wouldn't have wanted to ski on it. Wouldn't have got more than a few metres before bogging down and falling over. Seems that it was good up in the stations - nice snow, if a bit chilly at -15°


The snow is still deep and crisp (soggy, actually, but never mind the details) and even except in those parts where it's been beaten down by the passage of tiny feet, and I've spent all day as one of the great unwashed 'cos there was no hot water this morning. (Central heating was still working, fortunately.) Spent a happy afternoon up in the attic with the hairdryer, thawing out the one pipe that I hadn't bothered to insulate, thinking that there was no point as it wouldn't freeze up there, to wit the cold water pipe into the hot water cylinder. I admit it, I was wrong, on exceedingly cold nights it can in fact freeze up there and it does. Have now insulated absolutely EVERYTHING.


Time does fly, doesn't it? Can't think why, it's not as though anything has actually happened but there you are, it just whips past, some swine hands you the bill and you're left wondering vaguely what the hell you're paying for and rather hoping it was worth it.

But it does feel like the end of winter. Don't know why, there've been no conspicuous signs or even little notices stuffed in the letterbox, just the once-a-year feeling that the worst is over and spring is on its way. The daylight hours are stretching out so it's no longer dark at 16:30, little old ladies come out of hibernation, and the youth of the village commit whistling in public places.

Which reminds me that frightened bats make a noise like someone sucking their teeth. At least, the one I woke up from its hibernating in the woodpile made a noise like that. Of course, it may not have appreciated being tossed into the wood basket and having another couple of logs thrown in on top - luckily it didn't seem to be hurt and scuttled off happily enough into a dark crack when I picked it up.

And of course the winter sales started (almost finished now) and I succumbed to the temptation of a new scanner and bubble-jet printer for only 800F the pair. (Well, I succumbed and Upstart paid, seemed justifiable to me at the time.) I also have no real excuse not to buy the kids a decent computer as I can pick up the necessary bits for about 1500F (that's motherboard with everything integrated, 500MHz Celeron and a bit of RAM) so at some point this year I must get around to doing that.

But before doing that we have to get Jeremy's bedroom ready for him, now that Margo has removed all her sewing junk from there into the playroom. Which is suddenly about a quarter of the size it used to be. There's the old sink to be taken out, tiles to be removed from the walls (we're assuming he doesn't want to sleep in the Municipal Baths) and the electricity to be redone, after which it can be quickly bodged up and wallpapered.

Just at the moment I'm trying to work out just how the electricity gets around in this house. Yes, I know the theory - electrons (about the size of a small pea, but faster) move in wires and when they come to the end of a wire they fall out and, thanks to gravity, make the little paddle-things in electric motors turn around thus generating rotational motion which can be converted to a linear ie useful movement by a gearbox. Which does not completely explain the transistor radio.

But what I am actually trying to do is work out just where in the house the wires go. The old heating system is fairly easy to pick out, being relatively recent, and I think I've found the lighting circuit. But I'm damned if I can work out where the 3-phase goes. I'll find it, there aren't that many places it can hide.

Anyway, I rather think I won't do any more work tonight so before shutting down the machine I'll send this off. Have a happy (late) New Year